Beit Sefer visits Barn Sanctuary

The month of Elul, when we prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe, begins with The New Year for the Animals, where we learn about compassion, care, and openheartedness. The Barn Sanctuary in Chelsea, where over 120 rescued farm animals experience love and care, gave our Beit students and teachers excellent examples of compassionate care.

Aharon Varady writes on OpenSiddur: What a better way to begin a month dedicated to humbling ourselves and repairing our relationships than by reflecting first on our relationship with behemah — the domesticated animals which depend on us for their care and sustenance. The category of behemah includes all animals historically bred by humans as domesticated creatures, both kosher and non-kosher, e.g. cats and cattle, dogs and donkeys, goats, pigs, chicken, and llamas. If we can imagine, empathize, and understand the dependency of behemah in our care, how much better can we realize our relationship with blessed Holy One, and the infinite chain of inter-dependencies uniting all living relationships in reflection of this Oneness.

Students and teachers alike were fascinated by the virtual tour. Aaron, Ava, and Noah Jackson

The mission of the Barn Sanctuary: We rescue and rehabilitate abused and neglected farmed animals by creating a safe haven where these individuals can recover and thrive. We envision a world in which farmed animals are seen as individuals and treated with empathy and compassion. 

We learned that turkeys can change the color of their heads based on their emotions, and that turkeys have “accents” so that Michigan turkeys sound different from turkeys from other places

Our virtual tour guide, Sarah Chouinard, did an outstanding job of introducing us to the animals, and attentively answering our students many questions. Sarah spent a full hour with us as we visited chickens, goats, sheep, donkeys and cows in addition to the pigs and turkeys.

We learned that they have about 32 pigs because last year two of the rescued pigs were pregnant, and now they have their (already 200 lb) babies!
As we met the farm animals, our students introduced their stuffed animals who they snuggled with while touring the Barn Sanctuary.

The Barn Sanctuary is a wonderful local organization that we hope you will support. Visit them at barnsanctuary.org

Child and Family Programming for High Holidays 2020

AARC offers an engaging and flexible series of High Holidays learning opportunities and services for children and families, led by AARC Beit Sefer (religious school) Director Clare Kinberg. To take part, please fill out the Child and Family Programming Form; we will respond with the necessary Zoom links.

In order to accommodate the busy schedule of most families, parts of the High Holidays services will be pre-recorded. This allows you to watch the programming at a time that works for your family. Other learning opportunities will take place online via Zoom, to provide our little ones with an opportunity to learn while engaging with one another.

Schedule:

  • Saturday, September 19th, 9:30am. Children’s Activity on Zoom. Fill out the registration form to receive the Zoom link.
  • Saturday, September 19th. Watch Rosh Hashanah Children’s Services at your leisure. Video will be posted here the week before the High Holidays.
  • Monday September 28th, 9:30am. Children’s Activity on Zoom. Fill out the registration form to receive the Zoom link. (You only need to fill out his form once for the High Holidays).
  • Monday September 28th. Watch Yom Kippur Children’s Services at your leisure. Video will be posted here the week before the High Holidays.

If you have any questions about this programming, please email us. We looking forward to sharing this sacred time together!

Rosh Hashanah Children’s Service Video:

Yom Kippur Children’s Service Video:

With safety in mind, Beit Sefer plans Jewish learning

AARC’s Beit Sefer will begin its 2020-21 year on August 23, the first Sunday in the Jewish month of Elul, when Jews around the world are preparing for the Days of Awe, the Yamim Noraim.

Beit Sefer will be different this year, of course. Instead of meeting in person at the Jewish Community Center, we will hold short Zoom classes on Sunday mornings with some dedicated time studying Hebrew with Shani Samuels. These lessons will be augmented by learning in “family chevruta,” for which each family is paired with another for backyard and other outdoor learning activities.

During Elul, our Beit Sefer will undertake an all-school read of Out of the Apple Orchard, a Rosh Hashanah story of mistakes and forgiveness set in the Catskills in 1910.

The school will observe the Rosh Hodesh ElulNew Year of the Animals” with a visit to an animal sanctuary – either in our family chevruta or virtually – and with a shofar blast to wake us up to the coming year!

Our Beit Sefer will also help with several items for the congregation’s “Tishrei Boxes,” kits to help with home celebrations of the High Holidays. We plan to visit a U-Pick orchard (again in our family chevruta) and create Rosh Hashana cards. We will also find and paint small smooth stones to include in each box for the observance of the Yizkor memorial service on Yom Kippur.

All this is just the first month! This Beit Sefer year will wow you with new learning, new creativity, and new togetherness. We look forward to making new experiences and new history with you.

AARC Beit Sefer: Interactive, Cooperative, and Loving.

Written by Beit Sefer Director, Clare Kinberg

AARC Beit Sefer just concluded a year of welcoming: new teacher Marcy Epstein, new students, new members of the congregation and community. Our year was interactive, cooperative, and loving.

Interactive

Led by congregant and artist Idelle Hammond-Sass, we kicked off the year’s “Welcome” theme by joining the Ann Arbor Jewish Sanctuary and Immigration Network’s “Butterfly Project: Migration is Beautiful, Never Again is Now.” All Beit Sefer students participated to help make tiles and pictures that illustrate the beauty of migration.

Our interactive year continued with a weekend campout at congregant Carole Caplan’s beautiful flower-laden farm, where families, friends, and community members came together to build a sukkah. We ended our “in-person” year with a field trip to the Botanical Gardens for Tu B’Shvat.

Two of our students became bar mitzvah this year. Even with the service and celebration place on Zoom, many other Beit Sefer students and families attended. The b’nai mitzvah services really felt like community events.

The G’dolim, our oldest class, enjoyed the contribution of several parent guest speakers who presented family histories to the class. The Kitanim, our youngest class, invited older members of the congregation into the classroom to share from their lives. The intergenerational experience often included food, song, and stories. 

Anita Rubin-Meiller danced with us and shared stories of her grandparents, her family’s migration to the US, and photographs. She brought her grandmother’s beautiful candlesticks and read a story to the students.

Jack Levin, a visiting grandfather, told stories of Lithuanian journeys, whitefish and pike swimming in bathtubs, and what it feels like to be a boy on the inside and a grandpa on the outside – the enlarging circle of life. 

Lori Lichtman, told stories of her grandmother from Hungary and brought delicious traditional treats.

Cooperative

Our school is built on parent, teacher, and student cooperation. Parents help keep the school running: each family carries out small tasks that bring big benefits. Each week one family brings a snack of challah (or another delicious bread) and fruit for the whole school. The students often enjoy the homemade treats of the deeply appreciated baker-parents. Parents planned the Sukkot campout, and helped with the Purim carnival. Three teens who had recently become b’nei mitzvah helped in the classrooms each week. All this involvement demonstrates to our students that being Jewish is a lifetime commitment expressed in many ways, including the mundane as well as the spiritual.

Loving

Beit Sefer is a small school where learning happens with a lot of love. 

Beit Sefer B’Aviv B’Yachad באביב ביחד Sunday Relay

This Sunday, Beit Sefer students participated in a social distancing relay, B’Aviv B’Yachad (Spring Together!), that symbolized our ancestors’ journey through the desert. Education scholar and Beit Sefer teacher Shlomit Cohen created the relay journey with the goals of involving every family, celebrating Spring, and challenging the students (and their families) – all while observing social distancing requirements!

The race began with one family traveling by foot, bicycle, car or wing (?!?) to another family’s home. In front of that home, the traveling family took a photo of themselves and sent it to the group of Beit Sefer students. The arrival of the photo acted as the “baton,” prompting the family whose home was pictured in the photo to set out for the next household. Beit Sefer families are located in a long string between Ypsilanti Township and Chelsea, but the distance from one home to the next was easily manageable. School Director Clare Kinberg separately carried a replica tablet of the Ten Commandments to each household.

Please enjoy photos from each stop below. It was a joy to watch the photos come in over the morning and see the smiling faces in our beloved community.

Does this post inspire you to join Beit Sefer for next year? If so, please check out our religious school’s website!

First stop at the Pritchards’!
Zander and Eleanor thought it was a great day for a bike ride to stop number three.
Stop number three was a surprise!
Cara made scones and then got the sillies.
The Feinbergs were prepared for us!
Lovely to see Ava and Noah, Aaron and Erika on this spring day.
Thanks to Shlomit for planning the whole thing!
After Shlomit, we got to see Marcy’s Spring flowers.
Next stop, Aaron’s house.
Miles got his picture taken and hopped on his bike.
Next stop, Sappho and Bass.
Onward to Jack and Brenna.
Time for a socially distanced group pic.
Next stop Meadows!
We made it to the edge of town – hey, Sam and Joey!
Last stop, Wes and Wade!

Busy Weekend at AARC: Simchat Torah and a Robust Welcoming Event for New and Prospective Members

It was a busy weekend at AARC! We celebrated the Torah with Beit Sefer and held an informational event for new and prospective members.

The room was filled with excitement as the Torah was unrolled. The children were tasked with finding key words in the text. For some, this was the first time they had been up close to the Torah. After rolling up the Torah, families were led in a traditional Simchat Torah dance by Rabbi Ora and Marcy Epstein.

Beit Sefer students and families explored the Torah during Simchat Torah
Beit Sefer students created their own Torahs to celebrate Simchat Torah. Photo credit: Marcy Epstein

Later in the day, Rabbi Ora and Beit Sefer director Clare Kinberg welcomed new and prospective members at our “Meet Us” event, held to showcase Reconstructionism and our congregation. We are thrilled to welcome so many wonderful new families to our congregation!

Rabbi Ora leading our “Meet Us” event. Photo credit: Deborah Fisch
Clare Kinberg, Beit Sefer Director, teaching families about AARC’s Religious School

Another Renewing Sukkot Campout for AARC Families

Rabbi Ora shaking the Lulav with Beit Sefer Students on Sukkot

AARC families gathered this year on Carole’s farm to celebrate Sukkot. The campout began with a group effort to build the Sukkah. The children diligently created paper chains and tissue paper flowers while the parents and some older teens worked with hammers and nails.

AARC parents enjoying the fire after working hard to construct the Sukkah!

Once the Sukkah was complete, families enjoyed a cookout and a night under the stars!

On Sunday morning, Rabbi Ora joined in to bless the Sukkah, sing songs, and shake the lulav with the children and their families.

Beti Sefer students shaking the lulav and the etrog

The whole campout was a beautiful way to welcome in the New Year: with community, love, and the great outdoors!

Children in the Open Tent

by Clare Kinberg, Beit Sefer director

Rosh Hashanah Children’s Service 2019, photo by Nancy Meadow

For the Rosh Hashanah Children’s Service, I transformed our Community Chuppah into Abraham and Sarah’s tent, which was said to be open on all four sides in order to welcome guests. The theme for this year’s Beit Sefer is “Welcome.” We are learning to be welcoming of ourselves, new friends, new community members and immigrants to our country. Based on several Midrashim and a story told by Nissan Mindel on chabad.org, I wrote a story for our families:

Bruchim habaim, welcome to the tent of Abraham and Sarah in Beersheva. We are in the desert and our ancestors Abraham and Sarah have a beautiful garden around their tent, which is open on all four sides, just like this chuppa we sit under. This is a story about their open tent.

Abraham and Sarah were not born in Beersheva; they came from far away. They went on a long round-a-bout journey, walking thousands of miles to get where they finally built their tent and garden. While they were on their journey, some of the people they met were very kind and welcoming, offering them water and food and a place to rest.  Sometimes they tried to pass through places where people chased them away shouting “get away,” we don’t want you here.

When Sarah and Abraham built their own tent, they wanted it to be open on all sides to let people who were passing by know that they were welcome. Sarah and Abraham would sit in their tent and listen for travelers. They would welcome them into the tent and feed them.

Out in the garden surrounding the tent, there were two tall date palm trees. The leaves at the top of the trees could see and hear from many miles away. So the trees were the first ones who could see caravans of travelers when they were still far away. And the caravans could see the trees and know there was a place to rest from the hot desert sun.

The trees kept watch for Sarah and Abraham, and when the trees saw a caravan of people who seemed like they came from far away, people who dressed differently and spoke a different language, they would rustle their leaves with a special swishing sound.

When Abraham and Sarah heard the sound of the date palm trees swishing in the special way, they knew they had to do more than wait for the travelers to come to the tent. They knew the travelers might wonder if they would be welcome. So Sarah and Abraham would prepare food and water and they would run out of the tent to greet the strangers and offer them water, food, and good company.

Upcoming Dates To Put On Your Calendar: Annual BBQ Picnic, Fourth Friday Shabbat, The First Day of Beit Sefer, and a New Blog Series

Annual BBQ Picnic

Sunday August 18th, Noon-2ish. Olson Park.

From the Annual Picnic 2015
Olson Park https://www.a2gov.org/departments/Parks-Recreation/parks-places/pages/Olson.aspx
1515 Dhu Varren Rd, Ann Arbor, MI 48105
AARC will provide drinks, charcoal and paper products. You bring something to grill, a side dish to share, and your summer stories! The BBQ will be at a new location this year, Olson Park.
Our annual BBQ picnic is a very nice time for all ages to relax together, introduce new people to the congregation, reconnect after summer travels.
Thinking of joining? New member? Want to meet Rabbi Ora? Everyone welcome!

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Fourth Friday Kabbalat Shabbat

August 23rd 6:30pm, JCC of Ann Arbor

Come connect with community, rest, recharge, rejuvenate. Everyone welcome. Please volunteer to buy or bake challah, help set up, greet people, and do dishes after the meal.
  • Tot Shabbat, 5:45-6:15. With Rabbi Ora and Clare, singing and a story. RSVP requested but not required, by emailing Clare, ckinberg@gmail.com Opens in new tab Opens in new tab. Pizza for tots and other children at 6:15pm.
  • Kabbalat Shabbat/Welcoming Shabbat musical service with Rabbi Ora begins at 6:30. Elementary age children are encouraged to join the adult service during first half hour.
  • Potluck dinner for all, 8pm. Please bring a delicious, generously portioned, vegetarian dish to share after the service. **Nothing with nuts! The JCC is a nut-free building.**

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First day of Beit Sefer/ Religious School

Sunday September 15, 9:30am-11:30am

There will be a parent meeting during the first session of Beit Sefer beginning at 10:00 in the Gelman Lounge. Clare Kinberg will be in touch with families prior to the start of Beit Sefer to discuss class assignments.

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Blog Series on what it means to truly be a ‘Welcoming Congregation’

AARC will be hosting a new blog series that explores how we might truly engage in the process of making everyone feel welcome in our congregation. Some topics we will be exploring will include gender inclusion, accessibility, and appropriate touch.

Lots to look forward to ahead, and all of this is leading up to the High Holidays! I look forward to seeing everyone soon at these fun and engaging events!

Otto Nelson’s Bar Mitzvah Dvar: Chukat

Shabbat Shalom, everyone!
Welcome to my bar mitzvah! I hope you’ve been enjoying it so far.
My torah portion is Chukat.
It’s a bit of an inconsistent portion, because it starts with Adonai (also known as G-d) detailing a purification ritual to be used after contact with the dead, which I am focusing on, but about a third of the way in it jumps to the story of the Israelites wandering through the wilderness.
The aliyah (section of Torah) I just read is Numbers, chapter 19, verses 18 to 22.
My aliyah focuses on the details of the purification ritual.
According to the Torah, this purification ritual is required after contact with a human body, grave, or bone.
It was believed that contact of this sort makes a person spiritually or ritually unclean.
Purification involves sprinkling water containing the ashes of a Red Heifer (mentioned earlier in my Torah portion) on the unclean person, after which they must wash themselves and their clothes and remain isolated from others for a period of 7 days.
If they do not undergo this ritual they are cut off from the congregation, a punishment known as Karet. Rabbis were and are not sure exactly what this punishment entails, but some theories are premature death, death without children, or generally very bad things.
On that happy note:
You may have noticed that these laws about death and contact with the dead seem very strict, and a bit strange, which brings up the question: Why were these laws created?
I think one reason is for the sake of physical purity (I’ll talk about that later), in that it helps avoid the spread of disease. However, I think it was mainly for religious purity. I think the ritual was designed to keep the perceived sanctity of the congregation by acknowledging the dead but not allowing them to negatively impact the community.
However, I think now we should look at what other people think the purpose of this ritual is, through rabbinical commentary. A traditional addition to a D’var torah, rabbinical commentary is essentially looking back at observations on the Torah portion made by past Jewish scholars to see what they think (Like looking at the comments on a YouTube video, except generally more positive and much older).
Rabbi Joseph Bechor Shor, a rabbi who lived in France in the 13th century, speculated that the purification ritual was to assist with physically letting go of the dead, and avoiding the practice of incorporating dead bodies into physical objects and adornments, a tradition among several neighboring tribes at the time and place the Torah was written. He also held that it is a natural tendency to physically cling to loved ones who have died, and that the ritual exists to warn Jews against this tendency. However, Rabbi Samson Hirsch, a 19th century German rabbi, claimed that the meaning was more symbolic, showing the Jewish people that there is a possibility of redemption from sin, such as the sin of touching a dead body.
Additionally, allow me to note that Rabbi Yochanan (A first century rabbi who saved Judaism in a super-dramatic way that should REALLY be made into an action film), Rabbi Isaac (A student of Yochanan), and Rabbi Joshua of Sikinin (A lesser-known Talmudic rabbi), believed that the ritual is not made to be understood or have a reason behind it.
Now, the reasons I just quoted are more spiritual reasons for this ritual,
but I also want to mention possible practical or medical reasons.
A possible medical reason for the ritual was to use water to wash off bacteria from the person and their clothes, which were possibly infected from diseases carried by dead bodies, and then put the person in a quarantine for any remaining germs or effects to die off.
Strange thing is, the biblical purification ritual in my Torah portion seems in line with modern medical practices. However, this is thousands of years before modern medicine. So how could the ritual use ideas similar to those of contemporary medical science?
Personally, I think that the connection is coincidental. After all, when we do something that works, we continue to do it. And in ancient times, the health benefits of certain rituals could be seen as divine signs to continue them.
At the core of this ritual is purity. But what is purity? Physical purity? Religious purity? And what do these things mean in today’s world?
Personally, I think that the idea of purity, both religious and physical, is really mostly a social construct. Although how clean or healthy you are can affect physical purity, I think what you and others think about you is most of what’s taken into account. And the case of religious purity is even more heavily opinion-focused.
In today’s world, purity does not seem to be as common a topic, at least not obviously. However, I think that these ideas of purity still exist, just in a more cloaked form. When people make decisions based on physical health or look, I think that’s really just a different form of the idea of physical purity. And when people make decisions based on what they think of another person’s religion or culture, I think that’s just another branch of the idea of religious or ethical purity.
But now to my mitzvah project.
Because my portion is focused on purity and purifying, for my project my friend Eli (who had his Bar Mitzvah last month) and I swept up the memorial garden behind the JCC, planted new plants, added mulch, and weeded it, in a way restoring natural purity to it. Also, my Mom and I worked with a community organization known as NAP herps that monitors frog and salamander populations, which are indicators of natural vibrancy and purity. Finally, my family and I planted 150-something native butterfly bushes in my grandparent’s land in west Michigan, to restore some natural, native purity.
Anyway…
At this point, I have discussed purity in today’s world, talked about my mitzvah project, asked a rhetorical question and then answered it, given the interpretations of rabbis over the centuries, and given medical and spiritual reasons for this ancient ritual. I know at this point ya’ll are probably getting hungry for the luncheon, and I relate, so I’ll make this quick.
In our congregation, it’s customary for the Bar or Bat Mitzvah to ask a question of the congregation (Don’t worry, this one’s not rhetorical), so here’s mine. Throughout my D’var torah, I’ve explored many questions about purity. But now I have a question about purity for you to discuss, and that’s “What does purity, and for that matter impurity, mean to you?”

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. And to conclude, I would like to thank everyone who has helped me reach where I am today.
Thank you to:
-My Dad, David Erik Nelson, and my Mom, Cara Jeanne Spindler for helping and supporting me throughout my Bar Mitzvah and my life.
-My little sister Aziza, for, uhh…
Hmm…
Teaching me, and pushing me to my limit of, patience and understanding…
-Linda, Mojo, Riley, Danny, Justin, Ava, Henry, Vince, Sarah, Hannah, and anyone else who lives outside of the state and were willing to take the time and effort to come here
-My tutor, Deb, for helping me through my torah and haftarah portions.
-Rabbi Ora, for helping with my D’var torah.
-Anyone who has supported me in my life, be it a friend, family member, pet…
-And finally, everyone who came here to my bar mitzvah today! Thank you all so much!